Two ways

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” The LORD answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
— Luke 13.10-17

There are two religions in the world. They are mutually exclusive. Everybody from all traditions, all practices, all religions and all non-religions—Presbyterians and Buddhists, Mormons and atheists, Jews and crystal-worshipers, all choose one or the other. One is the religion of Being Right. You follow rules, believe certain things, and behave certain ways in order to get some kind of assurance of belonging and safety. If you don’t get it right—believe the wrong stuff, or say the wrong incantation, or live the wrong way—you lose. There are ways to redeem yourself, but you have to get them right, too.

The other religion is the religion of Being in Love. You love the gift of this life and the One who gives it, and so you live in love. You give and receive, you serve people, you set people free, you forgive and trust that you are forgiven— not in order to get something right, but because love and joy well up and overflow in you.

If you practice the Religion Being Right, sooner or later you hurt someone in order to Be Right. If you practice the Religion of Being in Love, sooner or later you break a rule in order to love someone. We are always choosing one or the other. Out of fear, we chose being Right. But in love we choose love.

All the power in the world is in love. The “power” of those who are right, who coerce and control and manipulate, is an illusion. It is certainly destructive (the ruler has the power to really hurt this poor woman) but it does not have the only real power, the power to give life. (The ruler couldn’t have healed her if he tried for all six days in a row.) That comes from love alone.

Each moment today, you are choosing between love and control, between following rules and being set free, between controlling and serving, between between going along with what you’ve always thought and opening yourself to something new. Jesus doesn’t choose for you, but he sets you free to choose. I can’t tell you which to choose. But I can tell you the joy of love.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight@hotmail.com

What do you pay attention to?

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.

He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to pay attention to the present moment?”
        —Luke 12. 54-56

In this 500-channel, multi-sensory, hyperactive world, what do you give your attention to? Do you follow your favorite team? Watch the weather? Track the stock market? Keep tabs on movie stars? Or are these things you ignore for other matters?

Do you fasten your attention on fear and anxiety, or do you keep your eyes peeled for grace? Is your radar tuned to people’s judgments, or do you attend to the love of God within you? Do you fill your consciousness with past mistakes, fears of the future, things you regret or dread or the way you wish things were—especially the way you wish things were— or do you pay attention to the present moment?

What do you see? What is true in you and around you right now? What is happening this moment? How is your breathing? Start there. Stay there. Don’t distract yourself with stuff you don’t need to fret about. Pay attention to the present moment, without analyzing, assuming, judging or wishing. It’s not that you shouldn’t hope, or treasure a vision for yourself and the world. It’s just that you begin with the present moment, without judgment or preconception. Rather than trying to manipulate your reality into what you want, be available to the grace that is hidden in what is. Simply be present. You’ll be surprised how lovely it is.

____________________
Weather Report

This, not something else,
as the jet stream of eternity
unfolds each moment,
clearing as the day passes.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve
_______________________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight@hotmail.com

Pay attention to the present moment

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.

When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to pay attention to the present moment?
—Luke 12.56

Most versions translate the last phrase as “interpret the present time,” but that sounds too much like understanding mysterious signs, like reading chicken entrails. Luke’s Greek verb means something closer to “check out,” or even “confirm,” and his word for time is kairos: the decisive instant, the present moment. Jesus’ saying is not about predicting the future or even analyzing current events; it’s about being present. It’s not about assenting to doctrines or end-of-the-world scenarios; it’s about paying attention.

It’s also about paying attention to what we pay attention to. We watch the weather, or the stock market, or how well our team is doing– but do we pay attention to what is going on right now, in this moment, in ourselves, in our souls, in those around us, and in the world? Do we shed our assumptions, our dogmas and our axes to grind and just pay attention?

These words follow Jesus’ teaching about how our self-differentiation will evoke other people’s anxiety, and hence their opposition. The antidote to this conflict is not to fight back, nor to break off relationships, but to be even more mindful of what is, to pay attention to the nugget at the heart of things (and of ourselves) that is True.

There is a garden deep in our heart, a place where we are simply who we are, where we are most authentically ourselves, where we are least influenced by other people’s opinions and fears and yet most freely self-reflective and open. It is a garden where the person God creates us to be grows like a fruit-bearing vine, free of the weeds of other people’s anxious projections onto us. It is in this place of Truth where Christ meets us, and invites us, by his own steady presence, to remain.

This true self is not something we can create; it is a gift. To pay attention to the present moment and to attend to What Is in us and to choose to be our God-given selves in this deeply rooted way is an interior experience of the Realm of Grace, the “Kingdom of God.” The more we practice this presence, the more fully we can resist the world’s anxieties and its fear-based divisions, and proclaim the Realm of God. When we are faithful to our true selves in God, we participate in the healing of the world.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight@hotmail.com

Division

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!
— Luke 12.51

Humans are intensely social creatures. We instinctively want to fit in, and we want others to fit in as well. We hate to “ruffle feathers,” “rock the boat,” or “upset the apple cart.” And we don’t like others doing it. So whenever we self-differentiate—when we express our own views, feelings, values or choices without expecting others to approve—inevitably others will oppose us, and (mostly unconsciously) try to get us to go along with what they want or expect of us. It’s hard to resist—not to “fight back,” nor to be insensitive to others or closed off to self-examination—but simply to hold our ground and remain authentic.

Jesus, of course, was a master at being himself without cutting himself off, despite heavy pressure to fit in. He invites his followers to do the same, and warns us that it will not bring peace, but division. People will oppose us. Oh, well. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil things against you on my account” (Mt. 5.12).

But before we face other people’s opposition, we face our own “division” within, between our fear and our actions: dividing what we actually choose to do from all our other options. Ultimately our faith is not our feelings but our actions, not our beliefs but our choices. Though we may feel fear, we act from another center, from love. It’s easy to drift along and just do what everybody else does. But Jesus invites us to make clear, intentional choices—even though we know it will make waves. And knowing how hard it can be, Jesus also offers us his strength and presence to help us stay authentic when the world wants us to cave in. Maybe this is part of that “fire” Jesus will baptize us with, the fire he says he brings to earth, the baptism he longs to complete.

Today, pray for courage to see clearly, to choose intentionally, and to stay steady—calmly, without anger, fear or defensiveness, and without cutting yourself off. When you remain devoted to your true self and to divine grace, Christ stays with you. Despite all outward divisions between you and others, you are one with the Crucified and Risen One.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight@hotmail.com

Attention

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
.
.

The smallest thing—
a splurge of purple on a blooming branch,
a child’s untranslated cry,
the shuffle of a bird in flight
through the ribs of a parking garage,
the weight of your body,
or an empty space you stare into—
any small thing might be a burning bush,
a divine murmur, an open door
to stumble through, a barbed lure
cast slyly from heaven, an offer
to behold what you would overlook
in the thundering cataract of the senses,
an invitation to fall
into the gaze of the One who looks out
from you into this world.
The flame of a candle, or an unlit candle,
or a place where a candle could have been once
holds the Word on the tip of its tongue.

All you have to do is listen.
When you see the glint, hear the bell,
or enter into the shadow,
make space, be still, and ponder.

So much in the world within
awaits your attention
before flooding into this one.

Open the window.
Dodge the language, shed the words,
and stay in the gaze of the bloom or the branch,
where you slip through the eye of the moment
into eternity, through the silence
into what the silence is telling you.
Enter the temple.

Even as you read this a fly sits in the windowsill,
hands folded in prayer.

.
.
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight@hotmail.com

Cherish

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
.

The ground that you stand on
holds you so tenderly.
The air that you breathe
enters your temple so reverently.
The sunlight that falls upon you
has come far to embrace you.
The birds that sing
want you to know something.
The universe cherishes you
and the Spirit who creates it
cherishes you.
The trees that surround you
even in winter
raise their hands in praise.
God does not need vaporous angels
to convey blessing or utter delight to you.
Every step you take, the ground
answers up to your feet,
“Yes.” “Yes.” “Yes.”
Even your grave embraces you,
eyes shut, holding you close.

.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight@hotmail.com

Life force

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.

I could feel it this morning out in the woods, even in late summer when life has begun to turn its head. I could feel the life force in things, drawing trees up out of earth, turning leaves toward the sun, flinging grasses up out of the meadow, throwing sparks all around, grasses that reached for my ankles, my thighs, chest. Trees billowed up out of the meadow toward the morning light. I could hear it in the forest, birds murmuring, yelling at each other, making their announcements, and in the meadow, in the clicking, buzzing, whining of unseen insects. I could see it on the path, in little turds of various critters happily digesting and going on their ways. All the living things offered shade, shelter, fruit, favors and praise to each other. The elder oaks and the little bugs all did their part.

Life is happening, throbbing in every living creature. It imposes no judgment, no demands, no conditions. It just fills and lifts and motivates and empowers. It makes things blossom and sing and grow and reach toward the light and bear all kinds of fruit. It makes things diverse and beautiful. It is never disappointed in living beings, but only delights. It never punishes, only gives gifts. Even in the dying, the falling and rotting and becoming something new, there is life-giving transformation. In all things, each in its own way and fashion, there is beauty, and some kind of joy.

What if God is like this, and has nothing of the stern laws and demands and the aloof character of the gods carved on the pediments of our great buildings? What if God’s laws are life, beauty, delight, growth and giving-and-receiving? What if God is not far above us but within us? What if righteousness is less like moral superiority more like organic symbiosis? What if we are living beings, and there is a life force in us yearning for light, pulsing with beauty and gifts to give, urging us to grow, to love, to offer ourselves in praise? What if we are alive, and God is that life in us? How then would you live this day?

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight@hotmail.com

The world’s sadness

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.

Sixty-five years ago today—Monday morning, August 6, 1945—the US dropped an atom bomb on Hiroshima, killing some 150,000 people. There are things to be said on such a day about peace and nonviolence, about the nature of war, about our capacity for evil, injustice and self-deception, about our complicity in benefiting from others’ suffering, about trading in our concepts of power rooted in violence and destruction for a vision of power rooted in being co-creators with God….

But sometimes statements are not what we need. Sometimes we just need a moment to open ourselves to the deep sadness of the world. If today isn’t the day for you—it’s your birthday, or you planned a picnic— you can remember Nagasaki on the 9th. Or another. Any day will do; there are plenty more. History drips with the blood of slaughter, oppression, cruelty and suffering. To live fully rooted in this world we have to let into our hearts the deep sadness that we all bear, hidden in our consciousness, our cultures, our bodies. We don’t need to wallow in it. We just have to stop protecting ourselves from seeing it, feeling it, knowing it.

When we connect with the deep sadness of the world we connect with all humanity, and all creation—and the life that endures. When we open ourselves to the world’s sadness we open ourselves to compassion. When we touch the world’s suffering we stand elbow to elbow with God. We connect with the grace that hasn’t given up on us, the hope that rises in us, the One who lives within us, even in our anguish. We behold the forgiveness that transforms, the healing that revives, the mystery that creates us anew. The joy of those who have stood in the ashes and wept with those who weep is honest and strong.

And even the unmarked graves, the mass graves, the innumerable tombs are all empty.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight@hotmail.com

Raven

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
.
.

I sit and watch the desert sky
until I belong to this earth.
After a long time a bird passes—
just passing:

a million year old raven circling
on ancient thermals,
rising forever among these
ageless canyons.

He circles eternally.
I am merely a passing shadow,
far below. I will soon
vanish

and he will circle beyond the time
when my language is forgotten.
After a long time I stop
wondering

which of us is the one who is
merely passing through,
until we are both eternally here,
in this moment.

.
Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight@hotmail.com

Communion

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.

He lies in bed beside her,
her life alongside his,

hears the river of her breathing,
feels the gravity of her flesh,

imagines her in the dark,
not doing anything, just lying there

half asleep, just being, and feels
an ardor sweetly rising in him,

not a craving but an inclination,
desire mingled with delight,

not for anything she could do
but simply by her being there,

and before he turns to touch her
he hesitates, waits in the hovering dark,

and savors the arousal of his fondness,
her effortless effect upon him,

her praise alive in him,
purely granted, not achieved,

and he thinks,
“So this is how God feels,

watching us in our sleep
and in our waking,”

and relishing his vivid gratitude
he reaches for her softly.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

_______________________________
Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
unfoldinglight@hotmail.com